Rockets could match season's longest win streak vs. Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The last time the Houston Rockets visited the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Rockets looked vulnerable.
On Christmas Day, the Thunder defeated the Rockets 112-107 with Houston's Chris Paul sidelined.
It was the third consecutive loss for Houston in a stretch where it lost seven of nine games.
For Oklahoma City, that was a fifth consecutive victory in what wound up being a six-game winning streak that left the Thunder thinking it could challenge the Rockets for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
But much has changed since then.
Houston has taken off, winning 15 straight games since Jan. 28, and not only solidified themselves as a top-two seed in the West, but they sit a half-game up on the Golden State Warriors entering Tuesday's game at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The Thunder have leveled off, going 8-8 since Andre Roberson's season-ending injury in late January, and come into the game in a precarious position in the bunched up West.
Oklahoma City will enter the game, at most, 1 1/2 games out of the No. 3 spot in the conference but also close to being completely out of the playoff picture.
For Houston, a victory would tie the longest winning streak in the NBA this season. Boston won 16 in late October through much of November.
A key in the game figures to be Houston's 3-point shooting -- and Oklahoma City's ability or inability to keep the Rockets off the 3-point line.
The Thunder are seventh worst in the NBA in 3-pointers allowed per game.
"We just can't let them get open and good looks," Thunder forward Paul George said. "They make some here and there, so be it.
"We've got to challenge ourselves. They're going to definitely challenge us on that."
When Paul and James Harden are both in the lineup, the Rockets are 34-3 this season.
A big part of that success, Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said, is the way Paul and Harden have handled things on the road. The Rockets are 24-7 away from home this season.
"The point guards have seen everything -- every kind of defense," D'Antoni said. "They won't get rattled."
In Houston's first 47 games, the Rockets had 10 or fewer turnovers just six times. During the current 15-game winning streak, Houston has done it eight times.
"It gives us an extra four or five shots at the basket," D'Antoni said.
For a team with the offensive potency of the Rockets, averaging an NBA-best 115.9 points per 100 possessions, those extra shots can make a big difference.
Though Houston is expected to have Harden and Paul in the lineup, the Rockets will be a bit short.
Forward Ryan Anderson is expected to miss his fourth consecutive game with a sore hip and Joe Johnson is out with an illness.
Luc Mbah a Moute is expected to be the backup at power forward without Anderson in the lineup.
Oklahoma City will have Corey Brewer in the lineup for the second consecutive game after Brewer joined the Thunder following a buyout from the Lakers last week.
Brewer played less than 12 minutes in his Oklahoma City debut on Sunday in Portland. Thunder coach Billy Donovan said he expected Brewer's role to grow as he gets more acclimated with his new team.
Updated March 5, 2018